Could Kentucky adopt a tougher law restricting texting or using cell phones while behind the wheel of a car this year?
State Rep. James Tipton of Taylorsville has introduced a bill to do so, and he has six co-sponsors, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
If the “Phone-Down Kentucky Act” becomes law, the use of a “personal communication device” or a “stand-alone electronic device” while driving or while temporarily stopped in traffic would be illegal. It would also be illegal to watch, record or broadcast video on such devices while driving.
The proposed law would apply to cell phones, tablets, laptop computers and personal digital assistants. Adding “stand-alone electronic device” to the ban covers any other mobile device that stores audio or video files retrievable on demand. It would be illegal to hold, use or in some cases even reach for these devices while driving.
Violations of the new law would bring a fine between $50 and $100 for a first or second offense. The fine would increase to between $100 and $199 for a third or subsequent offense or if the violation results in an accident.
The legislation focuses on texting, making cellphone calls and using personal electronic devices behind the wheel, which are among the most dangerous forms of distracted driving.
It makes exceptions for calling for medical help or law enforcement assistance during an emergency (i.e., phoning 911). It also allows hands-free or voice-operated technology along with the “minimal use of a finger to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the device.”
What’s The Current Kentucky Law about Distracted Driving?
You may be aware that Kentucky already has a law that makes texting while driving illegal. A bill signed into law on April 15, 2010, bans drivers of all ages from using a “personal communication device” to write, send or read “text-based communication” while a motor vehicle is in motion. The law prohibits text messages, instant messages and e-mail.
However, existing Kentucky law allows drivers who are 18 years old or older to make phone calls by entering or selecting a telephone number or a person’s name on a cell phone. Adult drivers are also allowed to use GPS devices while behind the wheel.
Under current law, drivers who are under age 18 are not allowed to hold cell phones or other personal communication devices while the vehicle is in motion. Using a navigation system is permitted, but it’s against the law for a driver to manually enter information while the vehicle is moving.
Is hands-free cell phone communication while driving is legal in Kentucky?
Over the years, police have said it’s difficult to enforce Kentucky’s existing texting-while-driving ban because holding a phone is not a violation and the law doesn’t expressly mention such activity as browsing social media or streaming music.
“The way the law is written, you could be driving down the road playing Angry Birds,” State Trooper Paul Blanton told the Courier Journal in 2015. “We can say, ‘Hey, it looked like you were texting.’ And the person can say, ‘Well, I wasn’t. I was looking up a number.’ ”
Previous attempts by lawmakers to toughen the law to make all casual use of a phone while driving in Kentucky illegal have repeatedly failed.
“A lot of your more conservative representatives and senators are against this type of legislation. They feel it’s too regulatory,” Bill Bell, head of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, said. “But my argument is, we’re talking about highway safety.”
The Danger of Distracted Driving to Highway Safety
Driver distraction is a leading contributor to crashes in Kentucky and across the U.S. Nearly 80 percent of crashes involve some form of distraction within three seconds before the incident, according to the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety.
Driver distraction occurs when drivers divert their attention from the task of driving to focus on some other activity. Discussions regarding distracted driving often focus on cell phone use and texting. But distracted driving also includes other activities, such as eating, talking to passengers or adjusting the radio or climate controls.
A distraction-affected crash is any crash in which a driver was identified as distracted at the time of the crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says.
The NHTSA said that in 2017, there were 3,166 people killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers nationwide. There were 599 pedestrians, bicyclists and other killed in distraction-related crashes.
Six percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. Eight percent of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the fatal crashes they were involved in, the NHTSA says.
Preliminary figures show there were 734 motor vehicle fatalities in Kentucky in 2019, compared to 724 in 2018, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Highway Safety said. If 6 percent of drivers in 734 fatal motor vehicle accidents were distracted, that would be 44 distracted drivers.
Injured In An Accident By a Distracted Driver? Act Now
If you have been injured in a car accident that may have been caused by a distracted driver, you should seek legal help immediately. An experienced distracted driving accident attorney can investigate the accident to determine whether distracted driving was a contributing factor to the crash.
You may be entitled to seek compensation for your medical bills, damage to your vehicle, lost wages as you recover, pain and suffering and any long-lasting disabilities resulting from the collision. But insurance companies try to pay out as little as possible after an accident.
At Morgan, Collins, Yeast & Salyer, our car accident attorneys have the Kentucky Courage™ to stand up to insurance companies and demand justice. We have helped many Kentuckians pursue full and fair compensation for their losses in car accidents. We want to help you, too. Contact us today if you or a loved one is the victim of a distracted driver in Kentucky.